In the town of Aspen, Colorado if we are going somewhere for “aprí¨s” does not appear to be the question, so much as where we are going for aprí¨s.
In fact where and then where after that as I was pleased to discover.
Aspen is small. Just under 7,000 people call it home year-round. Then there are the many others that call it home when they feel the need for snow, speed and aprí¨s ski.
Arriving in Aspen is just what you might imagine arriving in Aspen would be like. First you look up, up, up at the vista that is Aspen Mountain (or Ajax as those in the know will say). Then you look over there, and everywhere to see who, what and who and what they are wearing in this, the ultimately stylish ski town.
Ajax and the Silver Queen Gondola are at the centre of town. Its rising slope is what you see from any point in the village, and the base is where the bustling nightlife of Aspen seems to begin. When the lift closes for the afternoon, locals and visitors alike partake in the tradition of aprí¨s ski. I could compare it to happy hour ““ if we had that in Canada ““ but I would say the reverence and adherence to the practice makes it closer to afternoon tea.
Before tucking into the town's afternoon tradition though, I check into The Limelight Hotel. The Limelight is located just across the park (where dogs frolic leash-free) from Aspen's main street and boasts a stunning view of the town and Ajax, especially at night. The Limelight is contemporary in style, but incorporates lots of ski-lodge style comfort. Sumptuous sofas in front of a massive stone fireplace in the lobby bar look like the best spot in the house, and just outside on the patio an outdoor firepit welcomes guests after dark.
To my pleasant surprise when I open the drapes in my suite, the outdoor terrace looks over Aspen's park and downtown, with Ajax's soaring heights behind it. I could order-in and enjoy this view, but the aprí¨s awaits.
You will find a special aprí¨s menu at virtually all of the restaurants, bars and hotel lobbies in town, and this is the time of day to meet, mingle, grab a glass of Champagne and a delicious nibble. This really should be done while still in your ski garb, if you want to look like you belong here ““ although do remove your boots and goggles, please.
This is the mid-day repast that will sustain us so there is time to return to the hotel, freshen up from a day on the slopes, and then hit the town again a little later for dinner, and perhaps a bit of nightlife.
The Little Nell is the hotel that sits right at the bottom of Ajax, and boasts some of the best action for aprí¨s. When the weather is fine you'll find a crowd at The Little Nell's Ajax Tavern soaking up the late-afternoon sun. It is a must-try of any visit to Aspen to come here and have Truffle Fries and a glass of Veuve Cliquot.
Inside The Little Nell, Chair 9 is only open during ski season (late November through early April) and opens in the afternoon just as the lifts are closing. This is a local favourite and cozy spot to curl up after a day on the slopes.
The lobby bar at The Limelight Hotel “The Lounge” is where hotel guests meet for breakfast, lunch and dinner; but come 4pm the aprí¨s scene is set. Year-round from 3pm, The Limelight becomes an aprí¨s ski hotspot with hotel guests and locals sharing the space in front of the fireplace, ordering craft cocktails and listening to live music.
Over at Hotel Jerome, there are a few options to settle in over small plates. The Living Room is warm, rich and inviting; a space that feels like it's been serving fine cocktails for centuries. The hotel is a true Aspen antique and has been thoughtfully preserved and restored to a luxurious boutique hotel with style to spare. Hotel Jerome also boasts one of Aspen's most indulgent dining experiences at Prospect Restaurant. For a truly special night, stop at the bar for a glass of Champagne, and reserve a table in advance for the Chef's Tasting Menu.
For late night the Caribou Club is a must stop ““ if you can angle entry. It's a private club, unmarked and open to members. This is old-school style, with a lounge filled with deep velvet sofas and ornate carved furniture, begging for us to pull up fireside and toast our day in Aspen with bubbly. So we do just that, and it was a day well worth toasting.
If you go:
The Little Nell
Cowboys & carving
For another taste of Colorado, unlike Aspen but just as colourful, take the drive to Steamboat Springs. This is cowboy country, as you will easily see from the decidedly charming and historic town where you can still buy a cowboy hat the general store. Rising up behind this mountain gem is the ski resort of Steamboat Springs.
This resort is more relaxed, casual in style, but has amazing skiing and top-notch restaurants galore.
For some fun off the slopes, a trail ride with Del's Triangle 3 Ranch is a must. Del has lived in this part of Colorado for his entire life, along with his family. Even if you don't like riding, it's almost worth the trip to hear Del's stories during the drive to his Triangle 3 Ranch.
Get in the saddle and we are off for a trail ride in the snow. Even if you are used to riding, this is a bit of an adventure as Del takes us through elk and deer trails that wind in and out of forest and hillside, offering amazing views of the Colorado countryside. His surefooted horses handle the deep pack snow, giving us a ride to remember. Colorado snow, sunshine and tales from a real life cowboy.
If all the time in the saddle or the bindings has you feeling tight, you should visit one of Steamboat Springs' namesake hot springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs is a short drive outside of town (recommend the shuttle unless your rental is a 4X4 with great shocks) and is a must-visit while in Steamboat. It's a bit of a bumpy ride on an unpaved road, depending on the weather, but worth it to experience the natural hot springs that have been turned into a series of pools with varying temperatures. This is a rustic experience, there are change rooms and not much else, but there is nothing like the experience of a hot spring, snow falling, and spotting an elk in the tree line above.
If you go:
Colorado Ski Country
Del's Triangle 3 Ranch
Strawberry Park Hot Springs